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The Untold Story of Ukraine’s War: The Women of Maidan

Men fight wars, and women mourn them,” claims Anastasia Taylor-Lind, a documentary photographer. Tayor-Lind positions Ukrainian women on the periphery of the revolution, contributing to the complete erasure of women’s participation in Euromaidan. In reality, women played a crucial role in the revolution. In her interview with TED, Taylor-Lind delegitimizes women’s involvement in the uprising by validating traditional gendered scripts placed onto women’s bodies. For example, she quotes one woman in Kyiv as saying, “I want to be helpful, but look at me, the mascara is down my face!

The reality of women’s involvement in Euromaidan is a far cry from Taylor-Lind’s portrayal. Sarah Phillips, a professor at the Indiana University School of Global and International Studies, whose research has largely pivoted around Ukrainian politics suggests that forty-seven percent of the Maidan protestors, organizers and supporters were women. In her interview with International Business Times, Phillips explains that “Women have been especially active in work related to [the] provision of medical services, food preparation and distribution, and information- gathering and dissemination […] Women have also ‘manned,’ so to speak, the barricades in Kyiv, and women have organized themselves into self-defense units.”

 

Maidan activist
Maidan activist

Euromaidan, a country-wide protest for greater democratization and access to social, political and economic rights, was rooted in leftist ideology. It is not surprising then, that feminists and LGBTQ+ activists played a foundational role in the country’s protests. As the events of Maidan unfolded it allowed for a space to emerge where rights (or lack thereof) could be interrogated and critiqued, women’s rights included. Given that Western media coverage is predicated on androcentric bias it is understandable that women’s involvement in the revolution was absent from mainstream reportage.

Despite the lack of representation women continued to remain at the forefront of the revolution. The Olha Kobylianska Zhinocha Sotnia (Women’s Squad) was established; not only did women contribute to existing organizations and dynamics, but they created their own spaces where the articulation of feminist rights could unfold within the greater context of Maidan’s goals.

 

Field Kitchen on Maidan
Field Kitchen on Maidan

While it may be assumed that women catered to more peripheral roles – and of course, some did – many women firmly established themselves on the front lines as direct resistance to the Berkut. In Sarah Phillips’ The Women’s Squad in Ukraine’s Protests: Feminism, Nationalism, and Militarism on the Maidan gender expert Maria Dmitriyeva explains that “Even during the hottest confrontations, when there were men who insisted women should not be on the barricades, women still joined the clashes, and threw Molotov [cocktails] like it was the most natural thing to do … They were also among those attacked, beaten, assaulted and killed by Berkut.”